I’m a tea drinker. Two cups a day keep my engine humming. On summer nights, the Teapot of Sagittarius stands at the ready to tip a different sort of cup. One that provides a thick brew of Milky Way stars, sooty interstellar gas clouds and sparkling star clusters.
Sagittarius is a centaur with the body and four legs of a horse and the upper torso of a man who draws a bow to shoot an arrow. Full disclosure. I’ve never once attempted to see this ancient figure of Sumerian origin preferring instead the shorthand version of the constellation — the Teapot. Sagittarius follows Scorpius, that is to say, it lies to the east or left of that sinuous constellation when facing south. As June transitions to July, the Teapot comes into its own starting around 11 o’clock local daylight time. Look for the figure about one to two fists high (depending on your latitude) low in the southeastern sky around that hour.
If eleven’s too late for you, just wait two weeks and Earth’s revolution around the sun will cause the constellation to rise nearly an hour earlier.
Under a dark sky, a steamy Milky Way billows upwards from the Teapot’s spout to form a band that passes over your shoulders and into the north. When we gaze at what looks like smoke or a line of puffy clouds, we’re looking straight through the thickest, starriest part of our galaxy’s flattened disk. Stars pile up over hundreds and thousands of light years into a narrow hazy band — the Milky Way. If you look left or right of the band, your gaze takes you straight out of the disk and into intergalactic space, where the stars quickly thin out, hence no band.
As we learned in a recent blog, the center of the galaxy lies just above the spout though most of the stars in that direction are blocked from view by lots and lots of interstellar dust left behind after supernovae explosions.
With the moon out of the sky for a while yet, take some time to “pour yourself” a cup of tea with milk. Even if you’re a coffee drinker, you owe it to yourself to sample this magical brew.